If you sell online, you'll want to understand the Distance Selling Regulations. It covers contracts that are transacted facelessly, which includes goods and services purchased online as well as those by mail order, SMS, fax, phone and teleshopping. The regulations exist to give consumers the equivalent rights and protections they would have in the high street - like examining the goods beforehand or discussing the terms of a service.

This article focuses on the responsibilities of website owners who are selling goods and services online.

What's it all about?

If you run an online store, or supply goods or services online, then you have obligations under the Distance Selling Regulations. This means that:

  1. You must supply pre-contractual information (before purchase)
  2. You must supply written confirmation of contract (after purchase)
  3. You must honour the consumer's statutory right to cancel (14 days)
  4. You should be aware of the penalties for non conformance

You can learn more about the Regulations and Amendments here

Certain contracts are not covered by the Distance Selling Regulations - specifically B2B contracts. That's because the law exists to protect consumers which is B2C.

Distance Selling Regulations DON'T apply to:
  • Business to business contracts
  • Financial services (eg banking/insurance/investment) to consumers which is legislated by S.I. No. 63/2005
  • Sale of property, freehold or leasehold interests
  • Contracts for Hire Purchase
  • Contracts with a telecommunications operator over a public phone
  • Automated vending machines
  • Auctions

While the Distance Selling Act does apply to the following, they are exempt from having to provide pre contractual and written confirmation. Also the consumer's statutory right to cancel in 14 days and receive a full refund for same does not apply.

  • Delivery of food/drink by regular roundsmen (eg milkman)
  • Accommodation, transport, catering or leisure services supplied on a specific date or period

Precontractual Information

The following information must be made available to the consumer before they buy. This should be clearly spelled out on your website, and the consumer should have clear direction as to where to find this information on your website. If you do not make this information available prior to purchase, your distance contract may be unenforceable. Most online stores provide this information by having clear links to the following pages on their website: Terms & Conditions, Shipping and Refunds Policy.

Store Information
  • Your name and geographical address
    A full geographical address must be provided wherever the consumer pays for goods/services before receiving them
  • Your phone and email address so that the customer can easily make contact with you
Product Information
  • Description of goods/services
  • Price of goods/services, incl VAT and taxes
  • Price of any other "inescapable" costs
  • Details of how payment can be made
  • Minimum duration of the contract (eg in the case of recurring subscriptions)
Shipping Information
  • Shipping costs and shipping method
  • Shipping times - for goods. For services - when they will begin
Offers and Substitutions
  • How long a price/offer is valid
  • Whether or not a substitution may be made because the goods/services are no longer available
    In the case of a substitution, the supplier is obliged to inform the consumer of a substitution and both refund and carry the cost of return if the consumer is not satisfied with the substitution
Right to Cancel
  • The right to cancel. The consumer may cancel up to 14 days after receiving the goods, or after the service begins. The consumer is not obliged to provide any explanation for the cancellation
  • The cost of returning physical goods must be made clear to the consumer
    If it is not explicitly stated, then the trader must bear the cost. Also note that when physical goods are returned, the trader must also refund the initial shipping cost at the minimum standard rate
  • How to cancel
    You must provide all the correct information and procedures including time limit, conditions and for online stores, a web form, that the consumer can fill out advising you of their wish to cancel. The consumer can also advise you of this by phone or email. But you still have to provide the web form and clearly direct the consumer to it
  • See a sample cancellation form
    Sample Cancellation Form

    You can cancel your order anytime up to 14 days after delivery of goods. Please use one of the following methods to notify us of your intent to cancel:

    By Email:
    Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your name, email, mobile, most recent payment (quote the Order ID or Invoice Number), and the product and quantity that you wish to cancel
    By Post:
    Write to Sales Division, Unit 142, Paulowen Estate, Co Wherever G89STG3, Ireland with your name, email, mobile, most recent payment (quote the Order ID or Invoice Number), and the product and quantity that you wish to cancel
    By Phone:
    +353 786 27818188 (Monday to Saturday 9am - 5.30pm)
    By Web Form:
    Fill out and send the Intent to Cancel form on this page
    sample web cancellation form

Written Confirmation of Contract

Written confirmation must be provided when the consumer orders online

The contract begins as soon as the consumer sends the order. At this point you must send the consumer a written confirmation of the contract by email (or any "unalterable" medium) containing all the information set out in the previous section as well as the following:

  • Terms of cancellation including terms of any refund within the cancellation period
    The statutory cancellation period is 14 days, some exceptions may apply
  • Timeframe and who pays for the return of goods
    The statutory timeframe for delivery of goods is no more than 30 days. If the seller goes over the 30 days, the consumer is entitled to a full refund
  • Conditions of cancellation for ending an open-ended contract, or one that lasts more than a year
  • Conditions of cancellation for services provided within a specified timeframe
    eg bus/rail/plane ticket, hotel booking, theatre tickets etc
  • Where a service is concerned, the consequences of cancellation if the service begins before the end of the 14 day cancellation period
  • Provide details of guarantees and after-sales service where applicable
  • A geographical address for consumer complaints

Consumers Statutory Right to Cancel

Under the legislation, the consumer has the right to cancel the goods/services within 14 days, the right to cancel starting whichever is the later of these two:

  • The day the goods/services are received
  • The day the written contract is received

The right to cancel includes any credit arrangements. The right to cancel is automatically extended to 12 months should the supplier fail to provide a written contract. You have 14 days to refund the consumer from the day you receive the notice of cancellation.

It is very important that you make clear the following both on your website (pre-contractual information) and in the email you send once the consumer has ordered online (written confirmation of contract)

  1. If your cancellation period qualifies to be shorter than the statutory 14 days
  2. Who is responsible for bearing the cost of returning the goods
  3. Terms of refunds/partial refunds if they apply
Exceptions to the Right to Cancel

There are certain "allowable" exceptions to the consumer's statutory right to cancel. These are:

  • Goods that are "tailor made" for the consumer (cannot be resold)
  • Perishable goods (cannot be resold)
  • Media that can be copied (eg CD, DVD) cannot be cancelled if the manufacturer's seals are broken
  • Newspapers/magazines, gaming and lottery services
  • Services that have already begun (before the end of the statutory 7 working days cancellation period)
  • Financial goods whose prices fluctuate on a daily basis (eg stocks/shares)

Penalties and Governance

The penalty for non-conformance is a fine up to EUR60000 and or imprisonment. The body overseeing the regulations in Ireland is the CCPC .